By Reid J. Epstein
Alaskans go to the polls Tuesday to decide the last competitive Republican Senate primary of 2014 and the last chance for insurgent candidates to claim a GOP nomination.
The state's primary contest pits establishment favorite Dan Sullivan, who is backed by Washington players such as the Club for Growth, Karl Rove's American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, against tea party favorite Joe Miller, who upset Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) in the 2010 GOP primary only to lose the general election when she ran a successful write-in campaign. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is the third candidate in this year's primary, though his underfunded campaign has faded in the race's final weeks.
The GOP winner will face first-term Democrat Mark Begich in the general election in November.
Alaska voters will also decide a contentious referendum to determine how much in oil tax revenue the state collects. Democrats are seeking to restore a tax structure first imposed in 2007 by then-Gov. Sarah Palin that requires the state's three major oil companies to pay a progressive tax when oil prices rise sharply. Oil companies Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil are the major funders of a $15 million campaign in opposition to the Palin-era plan. The existing oil tax system, implemented in 2013 by Mrs. Palin's successor, Gov. Sean Parnell, removed the progressive tax and provides tax credits for oil production.
Mr. Sullivan, the former state attorney general, has for months been the target of relentless negative advertising campaigns funded by Mr. Begich and his Democratic allies. He has been labeled an outsider both by Mr. Begich and Mr. Treadwell because he moved to Alaska as an adult and lived elsewhere while working in Washington and abroad for the George W. Bush administration.
But Mr. Sullivan was able to translate his family's wealth and connections-- his grandfather, father and brother have served as chief executive of Ohio paint manufacturer RPM International--into a fundraising goliath. His is the only Alaska GOP campaign with a mature voter turnout operation and multiple campaign offices.
In hammering Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Begich and his allies have sought to elevate Mr. Treadwell and Mr. Miller. One Begich campaign ad declared both Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Treadwell would forbid abortion--for Mr. Treadwell, "even in cases of rape and incest." Mr. Begich, in an interview earlier in August, said he didn't address Mr. Miller in his advertising because Alaskans already know his politics.
"If you don't know Miller's positions, then you've been living on another planet," Mr. Begich said. "People know Miller. People don't know Sullivan or Mead."
Mr. Miller is trying to replicate the 2010 primary, when he came from more than 30 percentage points behind in polls to shock Ms. Murkowski. Surveys show Mr. Miller gaining on Mr. Sullivan and passing Mr. Treadwell in the race's final days, but his television advertising has been meager and no outside groups are coming to assist him, as they are Mr. Sullivan.
Mr. Miller is instead relying on mail pieces and recorded phone calls on his behalf from Mrs. Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the once and perhaps a future presidential candidate.
Elsewhere Tuesday, Wyoming Republicans will choose between incumbent Gov. Matt Mead and challenger Cindy Hill, the state's superintendent of public instruction. The state's voters look set to renominate GOP Sen. Mike Enzi, who faces four token challengers. Mr. Enzi's toughest potential foe, Liz Cheney, quit her campaign in January after failing to gain significant traction.
The year's last contested Senate primary comes Sept. 9, when New Hampshire voters are likely to nominate Scott Brown to challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Mr. Brown, a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, faces former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith and former state Sen. Jim Rubens, though neither is seen presenting a significant threat.
Write to Reid J. Epstein at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 19, 2014 14:27 ET (18:27 GMT)Copyright (c) 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.